Category Archives: 1960s

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST #10

This is the tenth and final post in a series recalling what it was like to serve as Judge Julius Hoffman’s law clerk.  It will encompass the following:

  1. Concluding remarks on the “Chicago 7” trial
  2. My final contacts with Judge Hoffman, 1970-1983
  3. My life, post-clerkship (in brief)

Concluding remarks on the “Chicago 7” trial

What happened in the appellate court?

            After reading several rulings by the appellate court, I’ve come away with this:  There was plenty of blame to go around.

            At the end of the trial in February 1970, the jury found five of the defendants guilty of the statutory crime with which they were charged:  the intent to incite a riot.  These criminal convictions were reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which sent the case back to the district court for trial.  A new trial never took place because the Justice Department apparently chose not to bring new charges against these defendants.

            In addition to the criminal convictions, Judge Hoffman convicted all seven defendants and two of their lawyers of contempt of court for their behavior during the trial.  Most but not all of the contempt convictions were also overturned by the appellate court.

            The appellate court issued a lengthy and detailed opinion reviewing the defendants’ criminal convictions. In that opinion, the court concluded that the Anti-Riot Act was not unconstitutional.  It also discussed the evidence presented during the trial, as well as the conduct of the prosecutors, the defendants, and the judge.  If you’d like to read the appellate court’s opinion, you can find it online:  United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340 (7th Cir. 1972).

            In a later ruling, in 1974, the appellate court focused on the contempt convictions issued by Judge Hoffman. (These were, as I noted above, separate from the criminal convictions.)  In this ruling, the appellate court acknowledged that three of the defendants (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and David Dellinger) were guilty of serious misbehavior and “overwhelming misconduct,” including the wearing of judicial robes in court.  It also upheld the contempt conviction of attorney William Kunstler, noting that his bitterness and anger on at least one occasion “constituted a vicious personal attack on the judge,” delaying and disrupting the trial.

            When the appellate court reversed the defendants’ criminal convictions, it commented on the defense’s arguments attacking Judge Hoffman’s conduct during the trial.  The court noted Hoffman’s “deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense” and his comments that were “often touched with sarcasm.”  The appellate court stated:  “Taken individually any one was not very significant and might be disregarded as a harmless attempt at humor.  But cumulatively, they must have telegraphed to the jury the judge’s contempt for the defense.” 

            The appellate court’s comments might well have applied to other criminal prosecutions that took place in Hoffman’s courtroom.  The judge often made similarly “harmless attempts at humor” that were attacked by defendants on appeal.  But in most of the other criminal prosecutions over which he presided, the trials were far shorter and the defendants and the charges against them were far less newsworthy.  In addition, Hoffman’s comments were never broadcast by the media to the same extent.  For these reasons, Hoffman had formerly escaped the kind of criticism that was aimed at him during this much more newsworthy trial.

            We should also note the appellate court’s focus on the conduct of the trial by the government prosecutors.  The court criticized them harshly. These lawyers, representing the Nixon administration, took advantage of Hoffman’s general bias in favor of the government, encouraging him to rule in favor of the prosecution–as was his wont–regardless of the merits of its position. In its 1972 ruling (cited above), the court stated that the prosecutors’ remarks “fell below the standards applicable to a representative of the United States.”  Doesn’t that say a lot?  I think it does.  The court pointed out some examples, such as prosecutors’ calling the defendants “evil,” “obscene liars,” “violent anarchists,” and “predators.”

            At the same time, it’s only fair to add that it was clear from the beginning that these particular defendants chose not to play the game the way defendants are supposed to.  They were determined to upset the courtroom at every opportunity.  A lot of the blame for the fiasco that followed must therefore fall on their shoulders as well. 

            My conclusion, when all is said and done?  The government never should have brought the indictment in the first place.  It was ill-conceived, and although the statute under which it was brought was later held by the Seventh Circuit to be constitutional, it was a highly dubious piece of legislation, spawned by the turmoil and the upheavals of its time.  If the Nixon administration had not pursued the indictment, this whole sorry chapter in U.S. legal history would never have been written.

            In the end, Hoffman’s reputation was besmirched as almost no other federal judge’s reputation has been, before or since.  The Sorkin film has revived interest in the trial, and in that film, Hoffman is portrayed as the arch-villain of the piece.   But in retrospect, I believe that this portrayal is not entirely justified.  With all of his faults, Hoffman was not an evil or cruel man.  I think he saw his role as that of a presiding judge compelled to impose order during a frenetic and chaotic trial, a trial unlike any he had ever encountered.

A side note on judicial findings of contempt

            During my high school years, I was a devoted fan of the TV series “Perry Mason.”  Every episode concluded with a courtroom scene, and I watched with fascination to see how admirable defense lawyer Perry and his opposing counsel, along with Perry’s clients and any witnesses, conducted themselves in the courtroom.  The judge’s rulings also interested me.  D.A. Hamilton Burger’s repeated objections that certain testimony was “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial” lodged in my mind, and when I took a course in Evidence during law school, I recalled many of the judges’ rulings.  Classmates who were questioned by Professor Chadbourn sometimes couldn’t come up with an answer, and I often thought to myself, “Didn’t you ever watch ‘Perry Mason’?  If you had, you’d probably know the answer.”  (I did.)

            “Perry Mason” reruns now appear on late-night TV in San Francisco, and I occasionally watch one.  In a recent episode dating from the 1950s (“The Case of the Purple Woman”), someone in the courtroom (not a lawyer) shouted out an objection in the middle of witness testimony.  The judge first issued a $25 fine for contempt.  But when this individual repeated his misbehavior, loudly protesting the $25 fine, the judge (who looked remarkably like Judge Hoffman) sentenced him to 24 hours in county jail for contempt.  It was great fun to come across an episode of “Perry Mason” featuring a conviction for contempt issued by an irascible judge like Hoffman.

My final contacts with Judge Hoffman, 1970-1983

            After observing the trial twice, and each time feeling uncomfortable, I cut off my relationship with Judge Hoffman almost completely. I was working as a lawyer in Chicago, and I was embarrassed that the judge I had clerked for had become the subject of so much criticism.

            But when I decided to leave Chicago and move to California in August 1970, six months after the end of the trial, it seemed only right to phone the judge to tell him I was moving and to say goodbye.  And so I did.

            During our phone call, I didn’t mention the trial, but after an awkward silence, he did.  “I still don’t understand what happened,” he told me.  He sounded almost mystified.  Uncertain about what had happened.  Baffled by all of the criticism hurled at him, without understanding why–or perhaps, without wanting to understand why.

            Despite his many flaws, this admission by the judge led me to feel sorry for him. Looking back, I think that when he agreed to preside over this trial, he never contemplated what might actually happen.  He somewhat ingenuously found himself dealing with a group of hostile defendants who were intent, from the outset, on disrupting his previously well-ordered courtroom. 

            Thinking about his admission to me during that phone call has–50 years later–left me wondering:  What actually happened to him, outside the courtroom, during the trial?  Did he witness protests in the streets surrounding the courthouse?  Did his wife try to bolster him at the end of every day in court?  And what happened inside the courthouse?  Did any of his fellow judges come to his aid?  Did any of them offer him support or advice?  Did he welcome their advice, if it was offered? 

            I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I’ve never tried to find out, and I don’t plan to try now.  But I suspect that the judge was left out there by himself, trapped in his appalling situation, twisting in the wind.  His colleagues and his law clerks, probably grateful to have themselves been spared what happened to him, may have failed to give him the kind of support he needed to help him get through the whole awful mess.

            When I think about the two years I spent as Hoffman’s law clerk, I recall some uncomfortable and unhappy times, some of which I’ve set forth earlier in this series.  But I can also recall some truly pleasant times.  He treated his clerks and office staff to holiday lunches, as well as farewell lunches for a secretary or law clerk leaving his chambers, at the Empire Room in the Palmer House hotel and the posh Standard Club.  He would also give us year-end bonuses paid out of his own pocket.  And, as I noted earlier, while I worked for him, he always treated me and my co-clerks with respect.

            My life changed dramatically at the end of the summer of 1970.  I moved to California, met the man I fell in love with and married, and did not return to Chicago with my husband and delightful one-year-old until 1975.  Instead of returning to working full time, I sought out part-time work in a variety of law-related jobs, and I only seldom ventured to downtown Chicago.

            But in 1980, my co-clerk Susan Getzendanner became the first woman judge on the Northern District of Illinois bench.  I was thrilled for her, and I was happy to congratulate her and wish her well.  My friendship with Susan led to two final contacts with Judge Hoffman.

            After Susan’s appointment, the judge cheerfully called me at home one day.  He told me he was about to speak about Susan at a celebratory gathering and asked whether I could tell him a funny story about her, gleaned from the year we worked together.  I came up with a silly story for him.  But before he hung up, he asked me when I would be returning to work as a lawyer.  I was busy with two young daughters, ages 6 and 3, and trying to stay viable in the legal profession by working at part-time law-related jobs.  When I told him I wasn’t sure when I would go back to working as a full-time lawyer, he emphatically responded something like this:  “Well, you should come back sometime soon.  We need good lawyers like you!”

            I replicated this dialogue in my mystery novel, Jealous Mistress, which I began writing in 1985 and finally published in 2011.  Alison Ross, the protagonist (who loosely resembles me), gets a call from the judge she clerked for.  A reporter had called to ask him about his former clerk Alison, who had garnered local attention by solving a recent murder. The judge asks Alison, “When are you going to go back to the law?  You were a real crackerjack when you worked for me.”  Alison tells him that she’s been busy at home with her kids, but the judge insists, “We need more good lawyers like you.”  Thanks, Judge Hoffman, for inspiring the dialogue I later used in my novel.

            Susan Getzendanner also wangled an invitation for me to attend a high-profile luncheon held in honor of the judge, sponsored (at least in part) by his alma mater, Northwestern University Law School.  It took place at a snazzy private club on Michigan Avenue, the Tavern Club, where I ran into a bunch of lawyers and law professors I knew, as well as a few of Hoffman’s former law clerks.  There had been a huge student protest at the law school during the trial, and a plaque (noting his donation to fund a room at the school) had been torn off the wall outside the room.  Some faculty members had also expressed scathing criticism

            The judge was not surprisingly offended by what happened, and the rumor was that Hoffman had dropped NU from his will.  By sponsoring this lavish luncheon held in his honor, NU made a huge effort to get back in his good graces, but I later heard that the effort did not bear fruit and Hoffman died without leaving anything to NU law.  (I don’t know whether that’s in fact true.  When I later taught at NU Law, I never asked any other member of the faculty whether it was.)

            During the luncheon, the judge smilingly walked over to me.  He seemed terribly pleased to see me and greeted me by kissing me on the lips. This was somewhat startling, but I forgave his brashness.  Probably because he was about 85 at the time.

            After the NU luncheon, I lost touch with the judge once again.  I sadly learned of his death in an unexpected way.  My family was traveling to the East Coast that summer.  My husband, whom I’ll call Marv, was a celebrated mathematician, and he was invited to speak at a math conference held at Yale.  The four of us memorably stayed in a stifling dormitory on the Old Campus. (We’d been assured that it was air-conditioned. They lied.) 

            After leaving New Haven, we drove to Cambridge, and Marv thought it would be fun to have lunch at his old Harvard College haunt, Elsie’s sandwich shop.

            As I perched on a stool at one of Elsie’s tables, I spied a copy of The New York Times left behind by another customer.  I picked it up and began leafing through it.  My heart stopped when I came across an article buried on an inside page:  a lengthy obituary for Judge Hoffman, who had died on July 1, 1983, while I was traveling.

            Was there a funeral?  If so, who attended?  I never looked into it, and I choose not to do so now.  But I hope there was some sort of memorial service that praised the many good things Hoffman did, instead of focusing on the notoriety he had earned as a result of the trial.

            As for me, I’ll be forever grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to begin my legal career as his law clerk.  The two years I spent as his clerk provided me with a solid foundation for my career.  I learned how the courts worked.  How lawyers did or did not craft persuasive arguments that could sway a court.  How judges did or did not conduct their courtrooms in a fair and unbiased fashion. And how litigants themselves could influence the outcome in a given case.

            In that benighted era, when most judges selected their clerks from among male law graduates and only male graduates, eschewing the opportunity to choose highly capable women, Judge Hoffman had the sense and good judgment to choose women like me.     

My life post-Hoffman (in brief) 

            When I finished my clerkship in the summer of 1969, I chose not to enter the private practice of law.  Instead, I applied for and won a fellowship in a program that helped lawyers learn how to represent poor people and placed them in programs where they could use those skills (the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program}. 

            I became a “Reggie” with the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau, where I was soon immersed in a lawsuit, Doe v. Scott.  My co-counsel and I filed this lawsuit, which challenged the constitutionality of Illinois’s restrictive abortion law, on February 20, 1970.  In August 1970, at the end of my first year as a Reggie, I transferred my fellowship to a program at UCLA Law School that focused on legal issues related to health problems of the poor.  During my year there, I continued to work on Doe v. Scott.  (I plan to write much more about my involvement in this lawsuit.  I hope to finish in the next year or two.) 

            Six weeks after moving to Westwood to work at UCLA, I met Marv, and my life changed again.  I’ll say more about that in my next blog post, “Another Love Story.”

Postscript

            Would Judge Hoffman be viewed differently today?  Should he be?  I titled this series “Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman,” implying that he could be described as a “hanging judge.”  But in retrospect, I now think he was a much more complex human being than I used to think, and this implication is probably unfair.

            During the five decades since Judge Hoffman presided over the trial of the “Chicago 7,” we’ve witnessed the rise of sharp-tongued “Judge Judy,” who has starred on one of the hottest shows on daytime television, winning high ratings in 25 seasons from 1996 to 2021.  The title of her 1996 book gives us a clue to her judicial demeanor:  “Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining.”  Her great success might lead one to assume that the American public now admires an acerbic judge (who has also been called abrasive, discourteous, and insulting) and prefers her to one who displays what’s usually called “judicial temperament.” 

            What can we say about the public’s fascination with an acerbic judge like Judge Judy?  Does that fascination lead us to view a judge like Hoffman differently today? 

            I don’t think the public views these two judges in the same way.  One was (at least until the trial of the “Chicago 7”) a generally respected federal judge who presided over a great many important cases in his courtroom.  The other is a judge who is closer to a comedian than a respected jurist. 

            As a member of the legal profession, I think that “Judge Julius”—often lacking in fairness and judicial temperament–was not the kind of judge we need.  He wasn’t the villain the Sorkin film makes him out to be.  But he could have, consistently, throughout his tenure as a judge, been less abrasive and less biased in favor of the government.

            Although “Judge Judy” may be an amusing figure in the world of entertainment, she’s also not the kind of judge we need. 

           In short, lawyers and litigants in the real world, confronting serious legal issues, deserve serious judges who invariably display judicial temperament and avoid, as much as they possibly can, acting in an abrasive and biased way.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST #9

This is the ninth post in a series recalling what it was like to clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

The “Chicago 7” Trial (continued)

More about the Sorkin film

            In Post #8, I praised the Sorkin film as an impressive achievement, noting the many awards and positive reviews by critics that the film has garnered.       I now want to add more of my own comments on the film.  I’ll begin with casting.

Casting

I don’t agree with some of the casting in this film.   I can recall a number of personae–how they looked and acted in 1969-70– and my recollections do not jibe with all of the actors chosen to fill those parts.  Even great acting cannot completely make up for this kind of disparity.

One excellent bit of casting is that of Mark Rylance as William Kunstler.  I encountered Kunstler about three years before he appeared in Hoffman’s courtroom, and I retain vivid memories from that time.  Those memories were later enhanced by my in-person observation of the trial twice and by TV coverage of Kunstler once the trial began. 

I first encountered him at a conference on civil rights held at Yale Law School the first weekend of April 1966.  The conference was sponsored by the Yale law students’ Civil Rights Research Council.   A law-school classmate kindly offered to drive three other students and me from Cambridge to New Haven (he immediately became a great friend).  At Yale, we attended sessions offered by a host of leading lights in the field of civil rights.  One of those was Kunstler, who was already an accomplished civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  He spoke at a session of the conference, and he also gave the keynote speech at the Saturday night banquet held on the Yale campus.  After this encounter, I remembered him because of his passion for civil rights and his engaging delivery.

In my view, Mark Rylance is a good fit for the role of William Kunstler.  In one scene, he rebuts one of the defendants, who characterizes Judge Hoffman as “nuts,” by calling the judge only “a little hostile.”  In his reading of this line, Rylance incorporates what I think was Kunstler’s generally lawyerlike approach to the case. He was, however, painfully caught in the middle between an irascible judge and defendant-clients who were openly defiant in court.  Lashing out at Judge Hoffman at times earned him a number of contempt citations by the judge.  (Only one of these was upheld by the appellate court.)  Overall, Rylance captures Kunstler’s difficult balancing act very well.

I don’t recall how some of the other individuals looked and acted in 1969, so I can’t comment on the actors’ resemblance to the real people.  Prime examples: Defendants Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Bobby Seale, John Froines, and Lee Weiner.   But I do recall Abbie Hoffman (hereinafter Abbie, to avoid confusion with the judge) and Jerry Rubin, both from observing them in-person in Chicago and from media coverage before and after the trial.  The most striking lack of resemblance, to me, is the great difference in their height that the film makes apparent.  Sacha Baron Cohen is (as he himself has noted) about half a foot taller than the real Abbie. This difference is jarring.  As for Jerry Rubin, I remember him as close to Abbie’s height and much better looking than the actor who plays him in the film.  Neater, too. The film’s Rubin comes across as a total slob, which I think is inaccurate.

Abbie’s son Andrew, who lives in the Bay Area and was interviewed by a journalist here last fall, noted that his father was a short man with charismatic energy.  “He was a tiny little …monster,” according to Andrew.  The entire interview with Andrew and others who knew the defendants appeared in Berkleyside, an online newsletter, and was republished in jweekly.com (Oct. 30, 2020.

I encountered Abbie myself on January 1, 1970, in the middle of the trial, which ended on February 18, 1970.  I recount that encounter below in Watching the movie “Z.”

The two federal prosecutors, Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz, both appeared in Hoffman’s courtroom a number of times during my clerkship.  Foran was a short and scrappy Daley acolyte whose name is mispronounced in the film.  He pronounced it as “FOR-an,” with emphasis on the first syllable, not “For-AN,” with emphasis on the second.  His preferred pronunciation was well known in Northern District courtrooms.  His portrayal in the film by J.C. MacKenzie is pretty close to what I remember.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt somewhat resembles prosecutor Richard Schultz and portrays him well.  As I remember Schultz, he was a rather ordinary-looking young man of about 30 who was a low-key prosecutor, pretty much as he’s portrayed in the film.  Whether he ever took a stand against this prosecution, as the film suggests, I have no inside knowledge. But he’s been interviewed recently by media outlets in Chicago, and here’s what I’ve gleaned from published interviews. 

Schultz calls the film “a fantasy” that has little resemblance to the actual events.  He remembers that the goal of some of the defendants was, from the outset, to make a mockery of the court proceedings.  He believes they were also planning violence from the beginning, and fist fights actually occurred between them.  According to Schultz, there was “nothing we could have done to stop the violence in the courtroom.”

 He regrets what transpired with Bobby Seale, but he defends Judge Hoffman’s ruling.  According to Schultz, the judge had no choice because of a ruling a short time before by an Illinois court requiring that an unruly defendant be bound and gagged so he could remain in the courtroom for his trial instead of being removed. 

One interesting side note:  Schultz encountered Abbie and Rubin at the Field Museum in Chicago, as shown in a scene in the film.  He remembers that, when they met, they “begged him to watch the movie ‘Z.’”  This is startling new information for me.  Please see below Watching the movie “Z,” my discussion of that movie and how it related to this trial.

I probably remember AG Ramsey Clark from photographs only and can’t comment on Michael Keaton’s portrayal for that reason.  You may not know that Ramsey Clark was the son of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Tom Clark.  During a visit to the Supreme Court during my law school years, I saw Tom Clark read from the bench an opinion he’d written.  In 1967 Tom retired from the Court so his son could assume the role of AG.  He was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson’s superb choice of Thurgood Marshall. 

Ben Shenkman does a good job portraying Leonard Weinglass.  Strangely, I remember Weinglass, who was then 33, as looking older than Shenkman, 52.  Maybe Weinglass looked older than his years.  Or maybe my memory relies on the fact that I was several years’ younger than Weinglass in 1969, and he looked like an older and experienced lawyer to me.

John Doman, the actor portraying AG John Mitchell, bears a slight resemblance to Mitchell, whom I remember from photos and TV coverage.  He successfully captures Mitchell’s arrogance and devotion to Nixon, which led to his own downfall, including a term in federal prison.

Finally, I want to comment on Frank Langella’s portrayal of Judge Hoffman.  One critic has called it the best casting in the entire film.  I totally disagree.  I worked closely with Judge Hoffman for two years, and Langella’s Hoffman is nothing like the real man.  Hoffman was eccentric and generally biased in favor of government prosecutors, but he was not evil. 

Langella may be a good actor, but he read his lines in this film with his own interpretation of the judge in mind.  Maybe that made for better drama.  But it’s not, in my view, close to reality.

In a published interview, Langella called Hoffman “a shit” who had “no redeeming qualities.”  He agreed with what he claims is Sorkin’s view of Hoffman as “either a total pawn of the government, or getting senile, or a combination of both.”  Langella added that there are men like this “who use their position to cover what is venal and dishonest and cruel behavior.”  Again, I totally disagree. 

I had my own issues with Hoffman.  For example, I was angry when he gave my attempt to write an appellate opinion to someone else.  (See Post #6.)  But he did have redeeming qualities.  He was one of the few judges who at that time hired women as their law clerks, and during my tenure he treated me and my co-clerks with respect.  Yes, he could be abrasive toward lawyers who appeared in his courtroom, but he was not venal or dishonest or cruel, like many men in his generation. 

It’s true that he had a bias in favor of government attorneys, both prosecutors and those who represented government agencies, but he was in no way a total pawn of the government.  And I don’t think he was senile or anywhere near it at the time of the trial.  While I worked for him, he ruled in favor of the inmates of the Cook County Jail and against those who ran the county jail.  And when he agreed with the Justice Department’s position in the South Holland school-discrimination case, he was criticized by some for being too much in favor of the government’s position challenging discrimination against minority students.  But his approach led to the right outcome in that case.

So I’m wondering:  Did Langella do any research of his own into Judge Hoffman’s record?  Did he uncover any evidence supporting his description of Hoffman as venal, dishonest, and cruel?  Did he conveniently forget how some of the defendants deliberately provoked this judge, a man who had previously been able to maintain an orderly courtroom?  Can’t these provocations themselves be viewed as “cruel”?

 Although I did not agree overall with the way Hoffman conducted this trial, there were reasons for many of his rulings, especially his reactions to the outrageous behavior of some of the defendants.  Further, he was later reprimanded by the Seventh Circuit for some of these rulings, so he didn’t get away scot-free for what he did.

My own attendance at the trial

            I personally attended the trial twice.  The first time I showed up simply out of curiosity, and when I left, I had no desire to return.  The second time I attended only because a law-school classmate who lived and worked in NYC was visiting Chicago, phoned me, and asked whether I would accompany her to the trial.  I met her at the courthouse, where we got into line and waited for our turn to be seated. 

            I got no special treatment either time.  Waiting in line the first time, my handbag was searched along with everyone else’s, and a comb was confiscated and held for me until I exited the courtroom.  At the time, I carried an aluminum comb that had a “rat tail,” and it was deemed too sharp for me to bring into the courtroom. I was highly amused that my spindly comb was viewed as a weapon!  (I didn’t bring it along when I returned with my friend.)

            Each time I attended the trial, I felt extremely uncomfortable.  By that time, I was a lawyer with the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau, representing poor people.  Embarrassed by some of Judge Hoffman’s conduct during the trial (and also troubled by the unruly behavior of some of the defendants), I did not return.  I also cut off my relationship with the judge almost completely.  But I briefly got back in touch with him before moving to California in August 1970.  (I discuss that in Post #10, my final post in this series.)

Hoffman’s conduct during the trial

            It’s irrefutable that Judge Hoffman’s conduct during the trial became a source of widespread criticism, and much of it was warranted.  As I mentioned in Post #8, the problem with Hoffman’s role as the presiding judge of the “Chicago 7” trial was, fundamentally, that he treated it like every other criminal case he’d ever handled.  And the defense attorneys were right.  He did have a record of bias in favor of government prosecutors.

            This led to his downfall.  He refused to see that this case was unique and had to be dealt with on its own terms, not like all of the criminal cases in his past. 

Further, he lacked any flexibility and remained committed to the way he’d always conducted proceedings in his courtroom.  He’d been sitting on the federal bench since 1953, and by 1969 he was unfortunately “fixed in his ways.” 

If he’d had some flexibility, that might have helped the trial proceed more smoothly. But at 74, he was accustomed to running an orderly courtroom with lawyers and defendants who followed the rules.  He did not have an orderly courtroom this time, and he was unable to bend those rules.

The Sorkin film highlights many of Hoffman’s missteps.  The situation involving Bobby Seale is the most notable example.  Hoffman was foolish to refuse to sever Seale from this case as soon as Seale complained that his chosen defense lawyer was unavailable.  The back and forth between the two of them became more and more heated, until Seale’s defiance led Hoffman to have him bound and gagged.  According to prosecutor Richard Schultz, Hoffman was following an Illinois court ruling requiring Hoffman to proceed this way, but the film’s reenactment is a spectacle in which Hoffman looks almost unhinged.  Despite his announcement from the bench that “I tried fairly and impartially to get this defendant to sit on his own,” viewers are appalled by this treatment of Seale, which seems especially unjust and discriminatory because Seale is Black.  When Schultz finally asks the judge to sever Seale from the “Chicago 8” and declare a mistrial in his case, Hoffman proceeds to do just that.  But it’s too late.  The damage has been done.

Hoffman’s increasingly fraught relationship with defense attorneys Kunstler and Weinglass further damaged Hoffman’s claim to be a fair judge. I discuss how the appellate court viewed the judge’s conduct in Post #10.

Some additional comments

  1. The film seems to confuse some locations in Chicago, including two of its large parks.  I was away from the city during the convention, but I believe that events depicted in the film took place separately in Lincoln Park on the North Side and in Grant Park downtown (not in only one park).  Grant Park is the large park located across Michigan Avenue from the Hilton Hotel.  Violence took place there on the night of August 27, and a scene in the film shows a hotel window being broken.  There’s also dialogue by the defendants about “going to the convention,” but the convention was held a considerable distance from Grant Park at the International Amphitheatre.  In the film, the violence that occurs takes place in Grant Park and on Michigan Avenue, not at the convention itself.

2. When the defendants and their lawyers meet to discuss the members of the jury, they openly prefer two specific individuals already chosen to be jurors.  I won’t discuss the film’s depiction of how these two jurors were later replaced by alternates.  But I was struck by the comment by the defense that they especially liked a young juror who seemed to be on their side because she noticeably carried a copy of a book by James Baldwin into the courtroom.

This line struck me because by 1967 I had become an avid reader of books by James Baldwin, and I still have my paperback copies of several of them (sporting a cover price of 50 cents).  When I wrote a seminar paper in 1967 for my law school’s Civil Rights Seminar with Professor Al Sacks, I quoted a couple of passages from The Fire Next Time.  These quotes later appeared in a law review article that published my paper, “A Child of a Different Color:  Race as a Factor in Adoption and Custody Proceedings,” 17 Buffalo Law Review 303 (1968), on pages 331 and 346.

3. The U.S. courthouse shown in the film, with people lining the steps chanting “The whole world is watching,” is nothing like the actual courthouse, which was and is a Mies Van der Rohe black box of a building.  The change is clearly made for dramatic effect, but if a viewer goes in search of that courthouse, she will be disappointed.  Hoffman’s courtroom is also different, chosen by Sorkin to feature his presentation of the actors’ positions in the courtroom.

4. Hoffman repeatedly gets some names, especially Weinglass’s, wrong.  This is typical of many people in their 70s.  A problem with names is quite common among older people (including President Joe Biden).  Because it’s not unusual for someone who’s 74 to forget names, even important ones, I think it was unfair to highlight Hoffman’s occasional lapses and suggest that they indicated senility.  In the case of Weinglass, I suspect that Hoffman had friends or associates with similar names, and those names occurred to him in place of Weinglass’s.

5.  I never followed the courtroom testimony of any of the defendants or any of the witnesses, but I’ve always remembered one fairly inconsequential response by Abbie Hoffman that was reported in the media.  At one point, Abbie was reportedly asked whether he was addicted to any drugs.  Answer:  Yes.  Question:  Which one?  Answer:  Caffeine.  As a caffeine addict myself, I find that answer perfectly apt as well as hilarious.

Watching the movie “Z”

In January of 2017, I wrote a post on this blog titled “Watching the Movie ‘Z’:  A Tale of Two Hoffmans.”  In that post, I noted that in January 1970 I watched the movie “Z”—a film I consider a powerful and enduring classic—under somewhat remarkable circumstances. (By the way, this is the film that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin “begged” prosecutor Richard Schultz to see.)

An edited version of my 2017 post follows.

“Z” is a 1969 film that was written and directed by Costa-Gavras, a Greek-born filmmaker who lives and works in France.  He based it on a 1966 book that used official documents to describe the 1963 death of a Greek politician, Grigoris Lambrakis.  Lambrakis was a leading pacifist and left-wing member of the Greek parliament.  Shortly after speaking at an antiwar meeting in Thessaloniki, he was struck on the head by a club wielded by two far-right extremists.  He later died of his injuries. After his death, graffiti with the letter “Z” began to appear in Greek cities.  Representing the growing protest against the right-wing government, it stood for the first letter of the Greek word, “Zi,” which means “he lives.”

In a filmed interview in 2009, Costa-Gavras discussed the making of “Z.”  You can watch this interview, as I did, on a DVD of “Z.”  Costa-Gavras focused on the theme of political oppression.  His cast included Yves Montand as Lambrakis and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the prosecutor who slowly realizes what happened and is ultimately driven to seek justice against the wrongdoers.

In the film, a key scene takes place in front of the venue where Lambrakis is scheduled to give his speech.  Supporters have gathered to welcome him, but others in the crowd are demonstrators opposed to him and what he stands for.  The local police are seen clubbing a few of the demonstrators.  But it’s clear that the demonstrators are the bad guys–street toughs paid off by those in power to harm Lambrakis.  One of the demonstrators strikes Lambrakis.  After he gives his speech, he’s struck again, causing his death. 

Before he’s struck, Lambrakis asks, “Why do the ideas we stand for incite such violence?”  Costa-Gavras’s answer:  It’s all about power.  Those in power will do anything to stay in power, and here that included the assassination of a political opponent.  (Post-1963, Greek politics remained chaotic.  A 1967 coup by the military led to its control of the Greek government until the regime finally collapsed and democratic government was essentially restored in 1973.)

I first saw “Z” at the Cinema movie theater in Chicago on New Year’s Day 1970.   The Cinema was an art-film theater located on Chicago Avenue near Michigan Avenue, and I saw a great many “art flicks” there before it was demolished and replaced by a high-rise building.  At the time, I was a young lawyer working in an office that brought test cases on behalf of the poor. The “Chicago 7” trial was underway, ending in mid-February 1970

I read about “Z” in Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun-Times in late December 1969.  Ebert was a young and thoughtful movie critic, and I was a fan of his reviews.  He called “Z” the best film of 1969, and I was eager to see it.  I’d just said goodbye to a man I’d been dating—he was a bit too boring to abide any longer—and I set out on a cold and gray New Year’s Day to see the movie by myself.  (As luck would have it, I met my never-boring husband when I moved to sunny California a few months later.) 

The film more than lived up to my expectations.  But what was especially striking about being in the audience that day was that, in the crowd waiting to enter the theater, I recognized one of the “Chicago 7” defendants, Abbie Hoffman.  I didn’t agree with everything that Abbie and his cohorts stood for, and I didn’t endorse their misconduct during the trial itself.  But I was opposed to the war in Vietnam, sympathetic to other elements of the protest movement, and horrified later that year by events like the killings at Kent State.  

As I watched “Z,” knowing that Abbie was watching it at the very same time, I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels with Chicago.  Fortunately, our government (unlike the powerful right wing in Greece) didn’t promote assassination. (At least we didn’t think so.)  But there were parallels.  The attitude of local officials, including Mayor Richard J. Daley, toward the protesters who came to Chicago in 1968 led to an overreaction by the Chicago police.  Their violent conduct toward the protesters became obvious to everyone watching TV coverage of the Democratic convention.  As we know, Nixon’s Justice Department went on to indict Abbie and the other defendants on charges brought under a dubious law.

There was, however, one sharp contrast between Chicago and Greece:  the prosecutors.  I’d fallen halfway in love with Jean-Louis Trintignant when he starred in “A Man and a Woman,” a 1967 French film.  Now, in “Z,” he portrayed a fair-minded prosecutor who becomes determined to hold the powerful to account.  And he succeeds in indicting not only the two toughs who committed the murder but also the high-ranking military officers who supported them.  (The real-life prosecutor, Christos Sartzetkis, was twice arrested and imprisoned but was later elected by the Greek parliament to be the country’s president from 1985 to 1990.)

By contrast, the prosecutors representing the Nixon administration in Chicago were, in my view, politically ambitious and not exactly fair-minded.  They were determined to convict the seven defendants, including Abbie. They secured as the trial judge a man whose usual bent was to rule in favor of the prosecutors who appeared before him, and he treated this trial like any other.

No one was killed in Chicago.  And although most of the trial defendants were convicted by the jury, their convictions were later reversed.  But the parallels between what transpired in Chicago and the story told in “Z” remain. 

“Z” is still a powerful film (it won numerous awards, including the Oscar and the Golden Globe as the Best Foreign-Language Film of 1970).  And January 1, 1970, endures in my memory as a day that underscored the ugliness of political oppression both in Greece and in my own country.  

Postscript:  Today, the parallels are still with us.  Although the November 2020 election installed a new president in the White House, some who were previously in power, and some who retain a degree of power, remain willing to (in Costa-Gavras’s words) “do anything to stay [or get back] in power.”  The message of “Z” lives.

                                                                        To be continued

(Post #10 will be the final post in this series)

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST #8

This is the eighth in a series of posts that recall what it was like to serve as Judge Julius Hoffman’s law clerk from 1967 to 1969.

The “Chicago 7” Trial (continued)

            How did the Nixon victory lead to the trial of the “Chicago 7”?  The answer is simple.

             With prosecutions by the U.S. Justice Department shifting from the Johnson administration and its attorney general, Ramsey Clark, to those on Nixon’s team who began running the Justice Department, things changed dramatically. 

            AG Clark had been reluctant to go after antiwar activists.  But Nixon was a warped personality, bent on punishing those he viewed as his enemies.  Once in office, with his own attorney general, John Mitchell, securely installed, he could prod federal prosecutors to go after his perceived foes.

            With the assistance of the FBI, long under the direction of another warped individual, J. Edgar Hoover, Nixon was able to track down his enemies, including antiwar protestors who had militated against him.  At the Democratic convention in Chicago in August 1968, antiwar activists’ outspoken opposition to the ultimately successful nomination of Hubert Humphrey (who in their view had not supported their cause with sufficient enthusiasm) disrupted the convention and undermined Humphrey’s ability to defeat Nixon.  As I noted in Post #7, Humphrey’s popular vote total in November was only one percent short of Nixon’s.  But that one percent made all the difference in the now-notoriously-undemocratic Electoral College.

            Many of these protestors had opposed the Vietnam War even before 1968, and they promised to further disrupt things once Nixon was elected.  Hoover’s FBI moved on from targeting people like members of the Communist Party USA to antiwar activists.  A covert program, Cointelpro, used a wide range of “dirty tricks,” including illegal wiretaps and planting false documents. 

I’ll add a recent update on Cointelpro here.

A fascinating revelation appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2021

            On March 7 of this year, The San Francisco Chronicle revealed an FBI break-in that underscores what the agency was doing at this time.  On March 8, 1971, Ralph Daniel, then 26, was one of eight antiwar activists who had long suspected FBI malfeasance and broke into a small FBI office in Pennsylvania to seize records that would prove it.  (March 8 was chosen because, they hoped, FBI agents would be focused on the title fight between prizefighters Ali and Frazier that night.) The break-in was successful, and the records uncovered were leaked to journalists and others, exposing Hoover’s secret FBI program that investigated and spied on citizens accused of engaging in protected speech. 

            This was the massive Cointelpro operation that had amassed files on antiwar activists, students, Black Panthers, and other Black citizens.  Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, was one target of this operation. (He plays a small role in Aaron Sorkin’s film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” before his shocking murder is revealed during that trial.  I remember learning of Hampton’s murder and feeling sickened by the conduct of local law enforcement, whose homicidal wrongdoing later became apparent.)

            In 1975, the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee found the FBI program illegal and contrary to the Constitution.      Exposure of Cointelpro tarnished Hoover’s legacy and damaged the reputation of the FBI for years.

            The recent revelation appears in the March 7th edition of The San Francisco Chronicle.  Ralph Daniel, a resident of the Bay Area, revealed his story to a Chronicle reporter fifty years after the break-in took place.

The legal underpinnings of the trial of the “Chicago 7”

            With John Mitchell running Nixon’s Justice Department, federal prosecutors were instructed to focus on one section in a federal statute originally intended to penalize those who created civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and specifically to use that statute to bring charges against antiwar activists.  The statute, which had been enacted on April 11, 1968, was mostly a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it applied to issues like fair housing and the civil rights of Native American tribes. 

            But Title X of this law, which became known as the Anti-Riot Act, did something quite different.  It made it a felony to cross states lines or make phone calls “to incite a riot; to organize, promote or participate in a riot; or to aid and abet any person performing these activities.” This provision, sometimes called the “H. Rap Brown Law,” was passed in response to the conduct of civil rights activist H. Rap Brown.  

How did Judge Hoffman become involved?

            In September 1968, shortly after the Chicago convention, the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois, William J. Campbell, convened a grand jury to investigate possible charges against antiwar protestors who had been active during the convention.  The grand jury, which met 30 times over six months and heard about 300 witnesses, indicted the eight antiwar protestors who came to be dubbed the “Chicago 8” with a violation of the Anti-Riot Act.  AG John Mitchell then asked the U.S Attorney for the Northern District, Thomas Foran, to stay in office and direct the prosecution.

            In Hoffman’s chambers, I was unaware that any of this was happening.  But in the spring of 1969, Hoffman became the judge who would preside over the prosecution.

            Anyone could see from the very beginning that this case was a hot potato–such a hot potato that before it was assigned to Hoffman, it had bounced around the courthouse a couple of times.  Cases were supposed to be randomly assigned to judges according to a “wheel” in the clerk’s office.  But this time, the first two judges who’d been handed the case had reportedly sent it back.  One of these judges was Chief Judge Campbell.  I’m not sure about the other judge, but whoever he was, he had a lot more smarts than Hoffman did.

            [I had my own run-in with Judge Campbell, beginning in February 1970.  But that’s a story for another time.]

            When the case landed in Hoffman’s chambers, he seemed somewhat taken aback, but I think he may have been secretly pleased to be handed this case.  He might have even liked the idea that he’d be handling a high-profile prosecution that would draw a lot of attention.  In any event, his ego wouldn’t let him send the case back to “the wheel,” even on a pretext.

            I kept my distance from the “Chicago 8” case.  As Hoffman’s senior clerk, due to leave that summer, I wasn’t expected to do any work on it.  My co-clerk, at that time the junior clerk, would become the senior clerk after my departure, and he assumed responsibility for the pre-trial motions and other events related to the case.  I was frankly delighted to have little or no responsibility this case.  It was clearly dynamite, and Hoffman was clearly the wrong judge for it.

            Since I was still working in Hoffman’s chambers, I could of course observe what was happening there.  And I could see what was going to happen long before the trial began.  Attorneys for the eight defendants (who later became seven when defendant Bobby Seale’s case was severed, in a sadly shocking episode about a month after the trial began) immediately began filing pre-trial motions that contested absolutely everything. 

            As I recall, one pre-trial motion explicitly asked Hoffman to recuse himself (i.e., withdraw as judge).  The defense lawyers’ claim was that Hoffman’s conduct of previous trials showed that he couldn’t conduct this trial fairly.  If Hoffman had been smart, he would have seized upon this motion as a legitimate way to extract himself from the case.  He must have already suspected that things in his courtroom might not go well.  But again, his pride wouldn’t allow him to admit that there was anything in his history that precluded him from conducting a fair trial.

            Soon the national media began descending on the courtroom to report on Hoffman’s rulings on the pre-trial motions.  One day Hoffman came into the clerks’ room to show us a published article in which a reporter had described the judge as having a “craggy” face.  “What does ‘craggy’ mean?” he asked us. 

            My co-clerk and I were dumbfounded, wondering how to respond to such a bizarre question.  The word “craggy” had always sounded rather rugged to me, while Hoffman looked much more like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo (as many in the media soon began to describe him).  I muttered something about “looking rugged,” while my co-clerk stayed silent.  Hoffman looked dubious about my response and continued to harp on the possible definition of “craggy” for another five or ten minutes until he finally left.

            The problem with Hoffman’s treatment of the “Chicago 7′ case was, fundamentally, that he treated it like every other criminal case he’d ever handled.  And the defense attorneys were right.  He had a record of bias in favor of government prosecutors.

            This problem became his downfall.  He refused to see that this case was unique and had to be dealt with on its own terms, unlike all of the other criminal cases in his past. 

            Further, he lacked any flexibility and remained committed to the way he’d always conducted proceedings in his courtroom.  If he’d had some degree of flexibility, that might have helped the trial proceed more smoothly.  But at 74, after 16 years on the bench, he was accustomed to running an orderly courtroom with lawyers and defendants who followed the rules.

            He would not have an orderly courtroom this time, and he was completely unable to bend those rules.

The film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin

            This film, which first appeared in September 2020 (I’ll call it “the Sorkin film”), has made the trial the centerpiece of a lengthy and detailed dramatization of the trial itself, along with the events that led up to it. 

The film is an impressive achievement.  I applaud Sorkin for bringing attention to the 50-year-old trial and to many of the people and events who were part of it.

I’ve chosen not to critique the film but simply to add comments based on my own recollections from that era along with what I’ve gleaned from my independent research.

The Sorkin film has notably garnered a 90 percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on nearly 300 critics’ reviews.  Some of the reviews are glowing, others less so.

I’ll quote from a sampling of reviews.

A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times:  The film is “talky and clumsy, alternating between self-importance and clowning.”

David Sims wrote in The Atlantic:  This is “a particularly shiny rendering of history, but Sorkin wisely [focuses] on America’s failings, even as he celebrates the people striving to fix them.”

Joe Morgenstern wrote in The Wall Street Journal:  The film “diminishes its aura of authenticity with dubious inventions” and “muddies its impact by taking on more history than it can handle.”

Sorkin’s overall themes are opposition to an unjust war, specifically the Vietnam War; the attempt by activists in 1968 to achieve what they viewed as justice and to strengthen democracy; and how all of this played out politically.  As A.O. Scott noted in his review, “the accident of timing” helped to bolster these themes, with “echoes of 1968” clear to most of us in 2020:  “the appeals to law and order, the rumors of radicals sowing disorder in the streets, the clashes between police and citizens.” 

Sorkin himself told an interviewer that protestors in 2020 got “demonized as being un-American, Marxist, communist—all things they called the Chicago 7.”  He added, “The movie is not intended to be a history lesson, or about 1968—it’s about today.”

(As I point out later in “A Brief Detour,” these themes also played out in Greece during the 1960s.)

In his screenplay, Sorkin sets the scene well.  He begins with news coverage noting LBJ’s escalation of troops and draft calls to beef up the war in Vietnam.  He includes a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. stating that the war was poisoning the soul of America.  He also highlights the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, who had spoken out against the war, while at the same time noting the increase in casualties among the troops in Vietnam.

In addition, Sorkin makes clear that two of the Chicago 7 defendants, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, were leaders of SDS, an organization maintaining that the Vietnam War was contrary to our notions of social justice.  He also shows us Abbie Hoffman (hereinafter Abbie, to avoid confusion with the judge) and Jerry Rubin–who wanted to see either Senator Eugene McCarthy or Senator George McGovern nominated for the presidency– proclaiming that there wasn’t enough difference between Humphrey and Nixon to merit a vote for Humphrey.  (Gosh, this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It reminds me of Ralph Nader in 2000, proclaiming that there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Thanks, Ralph, for helping to defeat Al Gore and giving us George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.) 

One more thing:  Abbie and Rubin claim in a clip that they’re going to the convention in Chicago “peacefully,” but “we’ll meet violence with violence.”

The film has deservedly won over a large number of admiring movie-watchers, but let’s be honest: Many if not most of them have little or no knowledge of the real story portrayed in it.

Sorkin’s screenplay received the Golden Globe award as the best screenplay of 2020, and it’s been nominated for an Oscar in that category.  The film has also been nominated for an Oscar as the Best Motion Picture of 2020.  One of its actors, Sacha Baron Cohen, is nominated for best supporting actor, and the film is nominated in three other Oscar categories.  In April, the cast received the Screen Actors Guild award for the Outstanding Performance by a Motion Picture Cast.

A few of my own comments

            As I’ve previously pointed out, in the spring of 1969 I was serving as Hoffman’s senior clerk.  I wasn’t responsible for advising him on his rulings during the trial (which began after my departure that summer), and I also didn’t take part in his rulings before the trial.  But it was impossible not to observe what was happening in his chambers while I was still working there.

            Although I therefore could observe what went on in Hoffman’s chambers, I was unaware of many of the events that were taking place outside of his chambers, and I don’t recall whether I personally observed any of the pre-trial courtroom appearances of the defense attorneys.  I also never observed the conduct of any of the defendants before the trial began, unless they appeared on local TV news coverage.

            For these reasons, I found much of the Sorkin film illuminating.  Although I’d very much like to know the sources Sorkin relied on in crafting his screenplay, I haven’t attempted to find out exactly what they were.  For proceedings in the courtroom both before and during the trial, I’m sure that Sorkin relied on the court transcript, which would have recorded everything said in court by the prosecutors, the defendants, defense counsel, the judge, and the many witnesses. 

            [Because of my own experience with court reporters, I know that not every word said in court is in fact recorded properly.  When I said during an oral argument (in a case called Doe v. Scott) that there was “no consensus” among medical experts regarding when life begins, the court reporter recorded my response as “no consequences.”  A very different word with a very different meaning in that context.  But in the trial of the “Chicago 7,” it’s probably safe to assume that the court reporter got most of the words right.]

            As for anything said outside of court, I’ll assume that Sorkin chose to rely on reputable sources.  I know, for example, that defense attorney William Kunstler published a book titled “My Life as a Radical Lawyer,” which probably provided helpful background for some of what happened (at least from Kunstler’s viewpoint).  Countless other books, interviews, and media accounts were no doubt researched and used to support scenes in the film.  Kudos to Sorkin if he and his staff perused these books and other background material for insights into what happened.

            I nevertheless want to ask, on my behalf as well as yours:

            How accurate is the film?

            Although Sorkin may have done a thorough job of research, there’s no question that he took considerable “creative license” when he wrote his screenplay.  He chose to emphasize certain events and to de-emphasize, revise, or omit others.  He also created totally new stuff to dramatize the story.

             For a review of what’s accurate and what’s not, I recommend two online articles.  One that strikes me as a careful job that squares with what I remember is “What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in The Trial of the Chicago 7” by Matthew Dessum, published on Oct. 15, 2020, in Slate.com.   A similar article appeared around the same time in smithsonianmag.com.

                                                To be continued

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST #7

This is the seventh in a series of posts that recall what it was like to clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

The “Chicago 7” Trial

            In the spring of 1969, shortly before I was to leave my clerkship, a new case arrived in Hoffman’s chambers.  It resulted from a grand jury’s investigation into the events that had transpired in Chicago the previous summer, just before and during the Democratic National Convention in August 1968.  Eight men, later known as the “Chicago 8,” were accused of violating a new federal law, the Anti-Riot Act, by inciting demonstrations and violent encounters with the police in the streets and parks of Chicago.

            Countless books and articles have been written about this trial, sometimes called the Chicago “conspiracy trial,” and I’ve also seen a number of dramatic presentations on the stage, TV, and film. I don’t question the validity of any of these and won’t comment on them here.

            In 2020, a new film, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” appeared on our screens.  I’ll comment briefly on that film later.

            Because I clerked for Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969, and because I lived in Chicago during that tumultuous time, I want to state my personal comments on the trial and the events that led up to it. 

            In this post, I’ll state my point of view as someone in a unique situation, working with Judge Hoffman at the very outset of the case, and who–after the trial was over—briefly talked to him about it.

First, some background 

I began my clerkship with Judge Hoffman during the summer of 1967, and I served as his junior clerk until the summer of 1968, when I became his senior clerk for a year.  My two-year clerkship ended during the summer of 1969.  Throughout my clerkship, I was living in my hometown of Chicago.  To help you comprehend the significance of the trial and surrounding events, I want to put them into some sort of context.

My remarks are based on my personal recollections of Chicago during those years.

            First, I was well aware of the rampant corruption in the city.  At the time, I sometimes described the city’s government as a “benevolent dictatorship.” Looking back, I no longer view it as “benevolent,” but it certainly was a dictatorship.

            The city’s government was dominated by one man:  Richard J. Daley, who served as the city’s mayor from 1955 until his death in 1976.  He not only held the executive leadership role, but he also made sure that local ordinances and everything else he wanted were enacted by a complicit city council filled with his acolytes (I recall only one dissenter during those years, an alderman named Leon Despres).  In addition, he decided who would fill local judicial openings.  As a result, the state courts were rank with incompetent judges loyal to Daley and his machine.

            Federal judgeships were somewhat different.  Many if not most of the judges were more or less independent of Daley, at least once they were on the bench.  Even though these judges probably were not totally lacking corrupt motives of their own, most of them (including Democratically-appointed judges who had some connection to Daley in their past) were not necessarily loyal to the Daley regime. 

            Judge Hoffman was a Republican appointed by Dwight Eisenhower and to my knowledge not connected in any way to the Daley machine, although I suspect that many members of the public thought he was. At a luncheon in Chicago in 2001, I was seated next to a prominent news anchor who voiced his assumption that Hoffman was part of the Daley machine.  I immediately corrected him.

Political developments during 1968

            By early 1968, many Democrats had grown restless with the presidency of LBJ.  National politics heated up when a number of men announced that they hoped to replace him.

            The heat became intense on March 31, when LBJ announced in a live TV appearance that he would not run again. (I recall watching him make that stunning announcement.) 

            LBJ reportedly dropped out because Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had won 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, while LBJ won only 49 percent.  McCarthy was the leading voice advocating an end to the Vietnam War, a position that was becoming increasingly popular.  McCarthy’s primary showing led Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York to enter the race a short time later.   Like McCarthy, he ran on an antiwar platform and advocated a number of other popular positions.

Even before LBJ’s announcement on March 31, I—like so many others– had become disillusioned with him, despite all of his remarkable accomplishments in the domestic realm, because of his increasing and unwavering support of the Vietnam War.  I never considered supporting Republican Richard Nixon, who had run and lost to JFK in 1960 (and later lost his race for governor of California).  I loathed Nixon for a great many reasons.   But for a while, New York’s relatively moderate Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, seemed like a possible alternative to LBJ. 

During a visit to New York City to visit friends in early March, I accompanied one of them to a meeting of the NYC bar association, where Rockefeller was the main speaker.  As he finished his speech and left for the exit, I ran after him.  Just outside the building, I approached him and stuck out my hand to shake his.  “Please run for president,” I urged him as we shook hands.  He smiled and said, “Well, aren’t you dear?” before descending the steps to his waiting car. 

I often wondered how things might have turned out if Rockefeller had taken the advice I offered him on those steps before Nixon’s grip on his party became too strong to overcome.  A short time later, LBJ dropped out of the running, and the Democratic race was wide open.  Rockefeller no long held any real appeal for me.  Now, with LBJ out of the picture, I would decide who, among the Democratic candidates who remained in the race, I’d support.

The Democratic National Convention, which would choose the ultimate nominee, was scheduled to be held in Chicago in late August of 1968.

My life in Chicago

I tried to keep up with political developments that spring and summer, but truthfully, I was primarily focused on the things that dominated my everyday life.  First, there were my responsibilities as Hoffman’s law clerk.  Then there was travel, like my trip to NYC in early March.  I also spent time with old friends I’d known for years along with some new ones.  And then there was my attempt to meet potential suitors.  (I was focused on my career but not to the exclusion of marriage and kids.)

In April, Chicago was rocked by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.  Fires and looting broke out in parts of the city.  I recall visiting the apartment of someone I was dating at the time.  Together we stood at the windows of his high-rise apartment in Sandburg Village viewing the widespread fires we could see below.  I was immensely saddened by King’s death and the terrible destruction that followed.  But my own everyday life didn’t really change.

Was I aware of the efforts by antiwar activists who were gearing up for the DNC in August?  Just barely.  I often watched local TV news and read the daily Chicago Sun-Times, so I was vaguely aware that there was a Yippie movement headed by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.  Didn’t they publicize a stunt where they brought a pig to Chicago, announcing that it was a candidate for president?  Because that struck me as pretty ridiculous, it was hard to take them seriously.  

I probably had read something about Tom Hayden and the SDS, but I honestly knew very little about them.  I was also vaguely aware of the Black Panthers, led in Chicago by Fred Hampton, but their agenda didn’t have any noticeable impact on my everyday life.

I did follow the campaigns of the leading Democratic hopefuls.  Eugene McCarthy was my early favorite, but by early June I was considering shifting my allegiance to RFK.  I was therefore horrified, along with the rest of the country, when he was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel in LA that June.  I had lived very near the Ambassador when I briefly lived in LA at the age of 12, where my family’s first home was a rented apartment on Normandie just off Wilshire Boulevard, a location very close to the Ambassador, and I had strolled near there.  That memory made RFK’s assassination even more real to me than it might otherwise have. 

After he died, I returned to supporting Eugene McCarthy, but I ultimately resolved (with reservations) to support LBJ’s vice president, former Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, as the most electable of the Democratic candidates for president.  Humphrey had a long and admirable record as a liberal Democrat who had supported civil rights legislation and other liberal causes for many years.  But although he earned the support of liberal senators like Fred Harris of Oklahoma and Walter Mondale of Minnesota, he faced vehement opposition because of his adherence to LBJ’s Vietnam policies.  He spoke out against Senator McCarthy and Senator George McGovern’s call for an immediate end to the bombings in Vietnam, an early withdrawal of troops, and setting talks for a coalition government with the Viet Cong. 

Humphrey didn’t enter any of the primary elections held in 13 states, but he won the party nomination at its chaotic convention in Chicago in August.  He lost the November election by less than one percent of the popular vote, but he carried only 13 states. 

The Democratic convention and the events surrounding it led to the trial of the “Chicago 7.”

My vacation that summer

I planned to take my summer vacation during the convention for a simple reason: A close friend who lived in NYC asked me to join her on a road trip that would leave Chicago just as the convention was beginning. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck (my salary was $6,000 for the year), so I jumped at the chance to get an essentially free ride to NYC. 

My friend was coming to Chicago for a wedding, and we would leave on our road trip to NYC on Sunday, August 25, just as the convention was about to begin.  I planned to see friends in NYC and Boston, and then travel from Boston to Cape Cod with another close friend.  Because I was busy making my vacation plans, I was largely insulated from news about the convention.

In Hoffman’s chambers, things at this point seemed routine.  I was largely preoccupied with ruling on the case of The Inmates of Cook County Jail, which I’ve discussed in Post # 4.  As I mentioned in that post, I left my semi-radical opinion on Hoffman’s desk on Friday afternoon the 23rd for him to read while I was away.  (I was later amazed on my return to Chicago to learn that he’d read this opinion from the bench during my vacation.)

I was living that summer at 1360 Lake Shore Drive (where the rent on my studio apartment was a whopping $140 a month).  My mother lived a few miles farther north at Lake Shore Drive and Aldine.  Leaving my mother’s apartment the Saturday night before I was to take off on my vacation, I rode on a bus that drove through Lincoln Park (the largest park on the North Side of the city) en route to my apartment.  I was startled to see masses of people gathering in the park shortly before the convention was to begin.  During the work week, I’d been similarly shocked to see U.S. Army jeeps driving up and down city streets in downtown Chicago when I walked to work in the Federal Building on Dearborn Street. 

Both unprecedented sights made me wonder exactly what might happen in the city during the convention.  But these somewhat shocking events weren’t front and center in my mind.  I remember feeling kind of glad to be leaving town and avoiding what promised to be ominous events happening in Chicago while I was away.

Did I follow the news during my road-trip vacation?  Not really.  So I was pretty much unaware of what was happening at the convention.  But once I arrived in NYC, I stayed with a friend in Greenwich Village and, on the night that became notorious, I watched the convention with her and her husband on their living-room TV.  Needless to say, I was shocked by what I saw.  And terribly embarrassed by the behavior of Chicago’s Mayor Daley, revealed for all to see on TV.  I remember watching Senator Abe Ribicoff speaking at the podium, nominating George McGovern for president, and defying Daley, whose henchman booed the U.S. senator from Connecticut.  Daley was caught on camera mouthing expletives about Ribicoff that TV wouldn’t or couldn’t describe.

At the same time, TV news coverage highlighted what was happening elsewhere in Chicago.  The convention was held at the International Amphitheater, a considerable distance from the center of the city.  But a multitude of antiwar protesters had gathered in the very large downtown park, Grant Park, located adjacent to Michigan Avenue.  These protestors created havoc as they began to move onto Michigan Avenue.  The resulting chaos, and the violent reaction to the protestors by the Chicago police department, seen across the world on TV, was later described as a “police riot.”

In NYC, I put that chaotic vision aside and went on to meet another friend in Boston.  We traveled together to Cape Cod, where we heard that Humphrey had chosen Maine Senator Edmund Muskie as his VP.  Muskie seemed like a good choice, and despite the turmoil in the Democratic Party, I was hopeful that the Humphrey-Muskie ticket could defeat Tricky Dick.

Flying back to Chicago to resume my life there, I discovered that things had largely settled down.  What had happened during the convention didn’t loom large in my mind as I began to pay close attention to the much more compelling 1968 election campaign.  The outcome would steer our country down Humphrey’s path or down a very different one.

In November, I was plunged into gloom by the dispiriting Nixon victory.  I remember watching election-night news coverage in agony as Tricky Dick’s votes added up.  I saw his victory unfold on my tiny black-and-white TV, seated on my sofa next to a date who’d asked me to accompany him earlier that evening to a performance of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at The Happy Medium.  Maybe because I associated the guy with that terrible night, I was OK when he gradually faded from my life.  I honestly didn’t care if I never saw him again.

Nixon’s victory changed everything. 

To be continued….

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

POST # 6

This is the sixth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk to Judge Julius J. Hoffman during 1967 to 1969.

Sitting on the Seventh Circuit

            Judge Hoffman was always worried about the fate of his rulings in the appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which reviewed the rulings of the district courts in the circuit, including ours.

            The Seventh Circuit was made up of appellate judges who sat in three-member panels in a courtroom in the same courthouse as the district court courtrooms.  But, as I recall, the Seventh Circuit courtroom was larger, was on a higher floor than the district court courtrooms, and was grander in every way.  The court, as an appellate court, also conducted its proceedings in a far more rarefied atmosphere than the one that permeated the more rough-and-tumble atmosphere at the trial court level.

            Hoffman was frequently reversed by the Seventh Circuit.  In the process, he was often severely criticized by one or more appellate judges for the way he had conducted a trial or reached a legal conclusion.  The South Holland school-district case was a prime example.  Another example was the Amabile case, in which the Seventh Circuit opinion pointed out how easily Hoffman could have avoided reversal if he hadn’t so adamantly refused to ask the jury about the influence of the media on the jury’s thinking.

            Of course, the “Chicago 7” trial was the leading case in which Hoffman was eventually slapped down by the Seventh Circuit.  (I’ll say much more about that trial soon.)

            In early 1969, despite his spotty record with the Seventh Circuit and several months before the “Chicago 7” trial, Hoffman was asked to sit “by designation” on a panel of the Seventh Circuit.  The U.S. Courts of Appeals were at that time frequently overwhelmed by their caseloads, and they would ask retired judges or district court judges to sit by designation on a panel made up of two regular appellate court judges and one non-regular judge. 

            There was great excitement in Hoffman’s chambers when he was asked to do his bit for the Seventh Circuit.  He was thrilled to play the role of appellate judge for a change.  I’m quite sure that he longed to be appointed to the appellate court (he called it being “kicked upstairs”), but that plum had never been offered him.  At least he could now be Appellate Judge for a Day.

            As senior clerk, I was assigned to assist the judge in this new and challenging role.  So when the briefs in the case he was to hear arrived in our chambers, he asked me to read them and prepare questions he could ask during the oral argument.  This sounded reasonable enough.  He was busy with his routine courtroom work and didn’t want to devote much time to the appellate briefs. 

            Still, I did expect him to scan the briefs and have some knowledge of the issues before the oral arguments would be heard.

            I was myself excited about assisting the judge with his new role as appellate judge.  I hadn’t applied for a clerkship with an appellate court, a clerkship that was (like the role of appellate judge vs. that of trial-level judge) more prestigious than the clerkships I applied for with the Northern District of Illinois.  Looking back, I probably didn’t explore the possibility of an appellate clerkship because I was pretty sure that I had a better chance of getting a clerkship with the district court, when securing even one of those was a challenge for a woman applicant in 1967. 

            I’d therefore resolved that if I was offered a clerkship with the Northern District, which was based in my hometown of Chicago, I would grab it and forgo my inclination to work as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. 

            I’d always been fascinated with being at the center of power in D.C.  But at the time of my last year in law school, Lyndon Johnson had squandered the remarkable record he’d acquired on domestic issues (for example, propelling the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and creating the Office of Economic Opportunity) by plunging further and further into the disastrous Vietnam War.  I decided to await the results of the presidential election of 1968 before committing to D.C.  So I was quite happy to accept a district court clerkship in Chicago.

            My own affinity for appellate-level work had been sparked when I participated in my law school’s moot court program, the Ames Competition.  In my first attempt at appellate brief-writing in the fall of my first year, I’d triumphed over a male classmate who was openly miffed that he was assigned to compete against a woman student.  He was overheard complaining that “If you win against a girl, you’ve only beat a girl.  And if you lose to a girl, you’ve been beaten by a girl!” 

            Some of my closest and longest-lasting friendships began in law school, and a great many of them are with male classmates.  But it’s entirely possible that, at that time, there were some others among my male classmates who shared the same misguided notion as my Ames opponent. 

            All of which made my victory especially delicious when I walloped him in moot court.  I earned a higher score from our three male judges, both on our oral arguments and on our briefs.  I almost felt sorry for my opponent.  His lawyer-father had traveled a thousand miles from the Midwest to witness his son’s humiliating defeat.

            Competing in moot court, I discovered my love of brief-writing, and I continued to compete in the Ames Competition as long as I could, hoping to do brief-writing during my career as a lawyer.  As things turned out, I did write appellate briefs during my career, and I went on to teach appellate brief-writing to students at law schools like Northwestern and the University of Michigan.

            The day Hoffman sat on the Seventh Circuit, I was present in the imposing courtroom, perched on a chair just behind the judges.  Once the oral arguments began, the judges were free to interrupt the lawyers with questions, and I had provided Hoffman with a list of challenging questions for both sides. 

            I was shocked when Hoffman finally spoke and revealed his vast ignorance of the legal arguments presented in the briefs. 

            He asked the right questions, of course (I had written them out clearly for him), but he asked them at the wrong time.  Once or twice, he asked a question that a lawyer had already answered, and the lawyer was forced to repeat what he had said a few minutes earlier.

            Hoffman also asked some questions completely out of context, revealing his total lack of understanding of the issues.  As the appellate lawyers struggled to complete their well-prepared presentations, I cringed.  The man was smart enough.  He simply hadn’t bothered to learn anything about the case being argued in front of him, and it showed.

            After the argument, the three judges and their law clerks adjourned to the chambers of one of the appellate judges, and the judges took an informal poll of where they stood.  Once the two appellate judges announced how they were leaning (the two were tentatively in agreement), Hoffman of course jumped in and agreed.  He was then assigned the task of writing the court’s opinion.

            Back in our chambers, Hoffman asked me to write the opinion.  I was excited and eager to bite into the apple of appellate opinion-writing, something I’d never expected to do while working for a trial court judge.  I immediately immersed myself in the law that applied to the case. 

            The law turned out to raise serious constitutional questions.

            The legal issues were complex, and I discovered that I was not completely sold on the outcome the three judges had tentatively agreed upon.  I began going back and forth, one day deciding in favor of the appellant, the next day agreeing with the appellee. 

            Looking for help, I sought out one of the appellate judges’ law clerks.  He was a friend I’d known in law school, and I was sure that he could give me some guidance.  But, like me, he seemed uncertain which way to go, so our brief discussion didn’t help me resolve my internal debate.

            Once or twice, Hoffman asked me how my opinion was coming.  I assured him that I was researching the applicable case law and giving the issues a great deal of thought.  I stated quite clearly that I was deeply involved in pondering these important issues and that I wanted to write an opinion he would take pride in.

            I didn’t see any reason to rush to judgment.  I preferred to think through the issues and come up with a well-reasoned ruling.  Appellate court opinions are often not issued for many months after oral argument.

            But Hoffman’s obsession with speeding through his caseload triumphed over my desire to do a thoughtful and thorough job. 

            One morning I arrived in chambers and was abruptly informed by Hoffman’s secretary that the opinion was written and I no longer needed to do any work on it.  After catching my breath, I asked, “What happened? Did the judge write the ruling himself?”

            Of course not, I was assured.  He had hired someone to write his opinion for him.  Although the secretary didn’t reveal the name of the author, it was a professor at a local law school. 

            So, without telling me, Hoffman had turned the case over to a law school professor, whom he paid out of his own pocket.

            I was astounded.  If Hoffman had given me a deadline (say, “If you don’t write this by June 1st, I’ll have to take it out of your hands”), I would have finished writing an opinion by the deadline.  And it would have been as good as, or better than, whatever the law professor came up with.

            But I wasn’t given any deadline.  After I spent weeks doing difficult legal research and evaluating the merits of the competing issues, the case was yanked out of my grasp and turned over to someone else.

            I never checked to learn how the opinion fared.  Did the two other judges go along with it?  Did the parties appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?  The truth is that, after the shock wore off, I really didn’t care what happened, so I never bothered to find out.

            Looking back, I probably should have realized that Hoffman desperately wanted to get the appellate case out of the way so he could get back to his everyday routine.  I had assumed that he could separate his appellate court role from his obsession with being in first place in the district court’s statistics.  While he waited for a well-reasoned opinion, he could have speeded through his trial-level caseload the same as always. But I was mistaken on that score.  He couldn’t separate the two roles. 

            In retrospect, maybe I could have proceeded differently.  Maybe I spent too much time going back and forth on the complex legal issues.  Maybe I should have set aside my trial-court responsibilities and focused exclusively on the appellate case.

            I could have simply sat myself down and written an opinion that favored one side or the other.  And been done with it. 

            But I still think that Hoffman was unforgivably wrong to do exactly what he did.

            As disillusioning as so much of my experience with him was, I view this entire episode as one of the worst examples of Hoffman’s high-handed behavior.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

Post #5       

This is the fifth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk to Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

•     My brush with patent law

      During my clerkship, I had a memorable encounter with patent law.  I’ll explain.

      First, a brief introduction to patent law–and how patent litigation has been handled by the federal courts. I know this sounds boring, but it’s actually pretty interesting.

      Patent law is a very old doctrine.  In the U.S., patents were first acknowledged in the 1787 Constitution. The framers of the U.S. Constitution knew that preserving the rights of authors and inventors was vital if our country was going to succeed.  Article I declares that Congress has the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  This clause, attributed to James Madison, was adopted unanimously without debate.

      To promote innovation and ensure consistent results throughout the country, Congress went on to give the federal courts the authority to decide any disputes over patents–for example, who was the rightful owner of a patent awarded to a particular invention.  Over the years, Congress has enacted a number of laws enforcing copyrights and trademarks as well as patents. 

      When it comes to patent disputes, federal district judges decide these cases at the trial level.  If one or both sides are unhappy with the district judge’s ruling, they can appeal.  At the time of my clerkship, appeals were heard by the circuit court of appeals that heard appeals from that district.  In our case, that was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

      It was widely known that the judges at both the trial level and the appellate level were woefully lacking in the science background needed to decide these often complicated cases.  They would therefore rely to some extent on the lawyers who presented the arguments on behalf of their clients.  But their rulings were often pretty awful.

      In 1968, I remember hearing that about half of all district court rulings on patent cases were overturned by the courts of appeals, but the truth is that very few of the judges at either level were competent at making these decisions.

      In 1982, Congress changed things.  District judges would continue to decide cases at the trial level, but appeals would be heard by a newly created court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, an appellate court whose judges had a greater knowledge of science and applicable patent law.  But during the years of my clerkship, appeals from Judge Hoffman’s patent rulings were still decided by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On to my story:          

            At the beginning of my first year as Judge Hoffman’s clerk, the judge distributed his two pending patent cases to my co-clerk, Susan Getzendanner, and me.  Susan was the senior clerk.  She had already served as Hoffman’s clerk for a year.  I was the new and junior clerk.  She and I became good friends, and I learned a great deal about clerking for Hoffman, and clerking in general, from her.  (Thanks, Susan.)

            As the senior clerk (and later the district’s first woman judge), Susan was handed the more difficult case, one that involved a patent for a TV antenna.  I got what I viewed as a still-challenging case, one that involved power tools.

            Susan, who was already the mother of one child, announced at some point during the winter that she was expecting her second child in the spring.  At first, Hoffman was visibly upset.  Would her pregnancy somehow affect his standing in the court statistics?  (You remember the judge’s focus on being first in the district court’s statistics, right?)

            When it turned out that the baby was due in March and that Susan didn’t intend to take time off before the birth (and almost no time afterward), Hoffman relaxed.  After all, in March he would be taking his annual month-long vacation, going off to a luxurious resort, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.

            The only problem was the TV-antenna patent case.  Hoffman had heard evidence in a bench trial (a trial held without a jury), and he’d expected Susan to write his decision while he was gone in March.  So even though, as things turned out, Susan continued to work in chambers during most of March, shortly before Hoffman left on vacation he turned the TV-antenna case over to me.

Although I had already immersed myself in the ins and outs of power tools, that case was extracted from my pile of pending cases, and the TV-antenna case replaced it.

            I was dumbstruck when the implications of Hoffman’s decision began to sink in.  I had never even taken high school physics (a decision I still regret), but I was now expected to rule on the status of a patent on a TV antenna!  The absurdity of having judges who have no scientific training decide patent cases suddenly hit me.  I was even more shaken up when I sat down in March, after Hoffman had left for Florida, and began to leaf through the transcript of the bench trial.

            I tried to make sense of what had taken place in the courtroom.  I struggled with the scientific terminology, reading and re-reading passages of the transcript and the briefs presented by both sides.  But I became absolutely livid when I discovered what the judge had done during the course of the trial.  At least twice, the patent lawyers had given him the opportunity to hear a clear and simple explanation of the science that was critical to deciding the case–and Hoffman had both times refused to hear it.  In his haste to move the trial along (always keeping his statistics in mind), he essentially told the lawyers, “No, no, that’s not necessary.  Don’t waste my time.  I understand everything you’re saying.”

            When I read those passages in the transcript, I felt like screaming.  How could he say that, knowing that he was going to dump this case on one of his unsuspecting clerks?

            I struggled on, trying to gain some understanding of the science behind TV antennas.  I reviewed the briefs filed by both sides and looked at the competing antennas that were stored in the evidence room.  I finally threw up my hands and started writing an opinion. 

            I knew that an earlier opinion by a federal judge in Iowa had ruled against the plaintiff who had claimed infringement in a similar case. The Iowa court ruled that the patent was invalid and therefore was not infringed.

            I reviewed the Iowa ruling and decided that I would not be influenced by it.  Instead, I would make my own decision.  A 1936 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court (which all lower courts were required to follow) dictated that a patent holder could not assert the validity of a patent that had already been declared invalid in a similar case.  But I decided that, although this case was similar to the Iowa case, it was different enough to rule differently.

            So even though I was uncertain about the science underlying the parties’ claims, I decided to rule in favor of the plaintiff, the holder of the patent, who claimed that its patent had been infringed.  My opinion held that the patent in our case was valid and had been infringed.

            When Hoffman returned from Florida, he wasn’t pleased with the decision I wrote, but he filed it anyway.   As always, he didn’t publish the opinion, but it can be found as a public record:  Civil No. 66-C-567 (N.D. Ill., filed 6/27/1968).

            The decision was appealed by both sides, and the 7th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.  422 F.2d 769 (1970).  It affirmed my decision that the patent was both valid and infringed.

            Guess what happened next.  The case ended up going to the U.S. Supreme Court and, believe it or not, became a landmark case in patent law. 

            Both my opinion and the Seventh Circuit’s opinion had relied on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1936.   But the Supreme Court decided to use this case to reverse its own ruling.  This meant that we were able to uphold a patent that another court had not.

            The Supreme Court decision became a landmark ruling. .University of Illinois Foundation v. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories., Inc., 401 U.S. 313 (1971).  Patent attorneys all know this case as “Blonder-Tongue.”

            In my wildest dreams, I never suspected that my painfully wrought opinion in the TV-antenna case would wind up in the Supreme Court and be considered, in any way, by the highest court of the land.

            Go figure!

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

Post #4

During the past week, we’ve all witnessed an alarming and unspeakable violation of the Capitol building.  Although I’ve been shaken by this violation, I’ve decided to proceed with this blog as earlier planned.

This is the fourth in a series of posts recalling what it was like to clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman from 1967 to 1969.

Some of Hoffman’s Cases

•     “Joe Shine”

            Hoffman’s first trial after I arrived was a criminal case brought by the feds against a group of defendants that included Joseph Amabile.  (I initially assumed that Amabile’s name was pronounced “Ah-mah-bil-lay,” but I can still hear Judge Hoffman’s bailiff calling out the name as though it rhymed with “Oldsmobile.”)

            Amabile (known as “Joe Shine”) and a couple of his pals were accused of serious wrongdoing arising out of land-development deals in the western suburbs of Chicago.  More precisely, they were accused of conspiracy to violate a federal law because they had interfered with commerce by extortion.  “Extortion” is the relevant word here.  According to testimony at the trial, one defendant had hit some poor guy in the face and threatened to use a baseball bat if he didn’t cooperate.

            At first, I was terrified to sit in the same courtroom with some of these defendants, but they looked pretty subdued, dressed in their expensive suits, seated next to their high-priced lawyers.  Judge Hoffman didn’t seem too worried, but then he had an armed bodyguard accompany him to and from the courthouse every day.

            When the daily newspapers started running stories about the trial, a major issue arose.  The defense lawyers had been opposed to sequestering the jury, but now they began arguing that the published articles were prejudicial to the defendants.  They demanded that the judge ask the jurors every day whether they had read or heard any of the prejudicial publicity.  Hoffman repeatedly admonished the jurors, each time they left the courtroom, not to read any newspapers or listen to any news about the trial on radio or TV.  But he refused to directly question the jurors about the prejudicial publicity.  His rationale was that because the defendants had opposed sequestration of the jury, they couldn’t complain that the jurors might be somehow exposed to news about the trial.

            Back in chambers, he confessed his real concern.  He was worried that, after he had invested several weeks in this trial, even one juror’s admission that she or he had watched a TV news report would force the judge to declare a mistrial.  His persistent refusal to question the jurors later became one of the biggest issues on appeal.

            After a five-week trial, the jury convicted the defendants.  But the appellate court later reversed the convictions.  (U.S. v. Palermo, 410 F.2d 468.)  Why?  Basically because Hoffman had refused to question the jurors about the prejudicial publicity.

            Hoffman had gambled and lost.  If he had directly questioned the jurors every day, they probably would have denied disobeying his order to avoid seeing any prejudicial publicity.  If they had explicitly denied disobeying his order, the convictions would have been upheld. 

            But because the judge didn’t want to risk any other outcome, his five-week trial was a total loss.

•     South Holland

            The judge took great pride in a ruling that he believed demonstrated his fairness to minorities. 

            In 1968, the federal government filed a suit against School District 151 (South Holland and Phoenix, Illinois), alleging discrimination against minority students.  Special prosecutors were brought in from the Justice Department in D.C. to try the case, and Hoffman presided over the trial that summer.  At the end of the trial, he asked the parties to submit Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.  He then took these documents under advisement.

            He never followed his usual pattern of asking one of his clerks to assist him in reviewing the evidence or deciding how to rule.

            A short time after the end of the trial, the judge announced his decision in favor of the government.  In his written memorandum opinion, he followed the government’s submission virtually word for word.

            The school district’s attorneys complained.  They argued that the judge hadn’t done anything other than rubber-stamp the government’s position.

            On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed Hoffman’s decision.  But the dissenting judge agreed with the defendant’s argument, noting that “the District Court…without changing a word,” adopted every one of the government’s Findings and Conclusions, as well as its proposed Orders. 

           The case against the school district was unquestionably meritorious.  Although I wasn’t asked to review anything submitted by either side, I have no doubt that the U.S. Justice Department produced sufficient evidence to prove its case of discrimination against the school district.  And Hoffman was therefore unquestionably right to decide in favor of the Justice Department. 

            But the case didn’t resemble any other major case I encountered during my clerkship.  The judge did not appear to review the evidence or attempt to reach any conclusions other than those offered by the government lawyers.  And he didn’t ask his clerks to do so.  I think he may have decided, as soon as the case was assigned to him, to rule in favor of the government.

             The judge was very pleased with the result.  After announcing his decision, he basked in the glow of the favorable publicity that usually escaped him. 

            One of Chicago’s daily newspapers even wrote an editorial praising him.  He had this editorial enlarged and framed, and after he hung it in his chambers, he proudly pointed it out to visitors. 

            It was clear that, despite the negative publicity he often garnered from other happenings in his courtroom, in his eyes he would now be seen as fair-minded, even “liberal,” thanks to his ruling in favor of minority students in this case. 

•     Inmates of Cook County Jail

            Sometime in 1968, a Chicago lawyer named Stanley A. Bass, who at the time was somehow connected with the ACLU (I don’t recall his exact connection), filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the inmates of Cook County Jail, complaining about conditions at the jail.  The suit described the horrific–indeed shocking–state of living conditions at the jail, alleging that they were in violation of various provisions of the US Constitution.

            This suit was, to my knowledge, the first class-action lawsuit presenting the issues of prison conditions to a federal court. 

             It also became the first prisoner lawsuit in which a federal court ruled that a class action of this nature stated a claim and therefore would not be dismissed.  Inmates of Cook County Jail v. Tierney, No. 68 C 504 (N.D. Ill., Aug. 22, 1968).

            I suspect that when the case was assigned to Judge Hoffman, Stan Bass’s heart sank.  Aware of Hoffman’s conservative bent, he could hardly hope to get any favorable rulings at the district-court level and probably relied on filing an appeal to get anywhere with his case.

            But Stan didn’t count on my being Hoffman’s law clerk.  Fortunately for him, that made a difference.

            The defendant prison officials filed motions to dismiss the case for “failure to state a claim,” making a number of procedural arguments designed to get the case thrown out of court.  A ruling in favor of these officials would have meant the end of the lawsuit.

            But instead of quickly ruling in their favor, I gave a lot of thought to what would be the right thing to do.  It seemed to me that the inmates had stated a perfectly good claim under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  Although I knew that Hoffman wanted to extricate himself from this case, I simply could not bring myself to throw it out.

            So after thoroughly researching the court decisions that interpreted the applicable federal rules, I reached my conclusion:  The court would be wrong to dismiss the inmates’ case.  It was August 1968, and my summer vacation was approaching.  After I prepared a lengthy written opinion, I left it on the judge’s desk on a Friday afternoon just before departing for my two-week vacation.

            I knew by this time that the judge was loathe to reject any opinion written by his law clerks because that meant he would have to substitute another opinion.  To come up with his own opinion would require that he do some research and writing on his part.  But I nevertheless felt sure that he would somehow avoid going forward with the inmates’ claims. 

            I pictured myself returning from vacation and confronting an angry judge who would insist that I throw out my opinion and write a new one stating the exact opposite.

            Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation to find that, while I was out of town, the judge had read my opinion, word for word, from the bench.  I felt dizzy with power, knowing that my efforts had kept alive a case he was eager to throw out, but a case that truly belonged in the courts.

            In the ruling, I wrote, in part:  “Although it might, indeed, be the easier course to dismiss this …complaint…, we cannot flinch from our clear responsibility to protect rights secured by the federal Constitution.”

            I hoped that the ruling would lead to improved conditions for inmates at Cook County Jail, and I believe that it may have. The case was later settled when the defendants assured the court that they were making fundamental changes at the jail.

            Although the judge read the opinion from the bench, he was adamant about denying permission to publish it.  But his remarks from the bench were a public record.  The ACLU wanted to let other lawyers know about the ruling, so it purchased the court reporter’s transcript and distributed copies of it.  These copies made their way around the country and were frequently cited, as an unpublished opinion, in the many prisoners’ cases that followed.

            One of the highlights of my legal career is that I wrote the first ruling upholding prisoners’ rights in a case of this kind.  And that my ruling went on to inspire many cases that followed in its wake. 

            When I later worked as a staff attorney at the National Health and Environmental Law Program, located at UCLA School of Law, I did further research into the issues surrounding prison health care, and I published an article that explored these issues, “The Captive Patient: The Treatment of Health Problems in American Prisons,”  6 Clearinghouse Review 16 (May 1972).

            Postscript:  Stan Bass later became a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.   When he filed an amicus brief on behalf of that organization in a class-action prisoner case (presenting other issues) in the U.S. Supreme Court (Goosby v. Osser, No. 71-6316, 409 U.S. 512 (1973)), Stan cited the ruling in Inmates of Cook County Jail as support.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman: Post #3

 

This post is the third in a series of posts recalling what it was like to work as a law clerk for Judge Julius J. Hoffman.

 •      His treatment of lawyers

                Hoffman tended to treat most lawyers disrespectfully.  During court sessions, he would berate lawyers for their failings, no matter how minor, and he would generally speak to them in a condescending tone.  Seated in the courtroom, where I sometimes had to listen to lawyers’ arguments or witnesses’ testimony, I often found myself cringing when Hoffman demeaned a lawyer who appeared before him.

                There were a few exceptions.  He was generally impressed with lawyers from the biggest, most prominent firms in the city, and he tended to treat them better than less well-connected lawyers. 

                 He also treated government lawyers with some deference, and he was almost courtly to the few women lawyers who appeared before him.  If a lawyer was both a woman and a representative of the U.S. government, Hoffman would treat her like a queen.  A woman friend of mine who worked for a federal agency could never understand why lawyers complained about Hoffman.  She thoroughly enjoyed her appearances in his courtroom.

•     Hell, no, I won’t…publish

                Hoffman almost never published his opinions.  He justified his refusal to publish by saying he didn’t want lawyers to throw his own words back at him in a later case.  Early in his judicial career he had apparently published some opinions, and lawyers did just that.  At that point, he swore off publication. 

                The only decision of mine that Hoffman chose to publish involved an arcane tax issue involving Rosehill Cemetery.  Later, when Hoffman went along with a controversial ruling I wrote in a case involving the inmates of Cook County Jail, he read the ruling from the bench but refused to publish it, despite numerous requests from lawyers that he do so. 

            I guess he thought he had done enough just reading the damned thing from the bench.  He was not about to put it in black and white.  The ACLU ended up buying a copy of the transcript from the court stenographer and making copies of it, so the opinion eventually was widely circulated, but in less-than-official form.  (I’ll have more to say more about this case in Post #4.)

•      His view of habeas corpus petitions

                In the late ’60s, both state and federal prisoners tried (as they still do) to get out of prison by filing habeas corpus petitions.  Some prisoners were fairly skillful jailhouse lawyers who submitted petitions citing legal authority for their claims.  Others sent crudely drafted handwritten pleas with very little to go on.

                Hoffman gave clear instructions to his law clerks that we were never to grant a habeas corpus petition, no matter what sort of claim the prisoner alleged.  He directed us to find something, anything, on which to base a dismissal of the petition.

                I quickly learned a few shortcuts and repeatedly cited the same language, followed by the same precedents, over and over again.  But in a few cases I couldn’t see any way to get around a prisoner’s claim.  The prisoner had made a genuine constitutional argument, and I believed it was necessary to hold a hearing where he could make his case.  But whenever I tried to explain this to the judge, he blew me off.

                “I will never allow a prisoner to be brought to my courtroom for a hearing,” he declared.  “If the Seventh Circuit wants to order me to hold a hearing, I will hold it, but I will never order one myself.  Find some reason to deny the petition!”  So even in those few cases, I had to comply with the judge’s position and come up with some pretext to deny the petitions–hoping, of course, that the prisoners were not too discouraged to file an appeal with the court of appeals.

In the case of one prisoner, I was happy to go along with the judge’s dictates. Jack K. was a perennial petitioner who must have filed one or two handwritten petitions every month. He filed so many that we never took any of them seriously. Prisoners like him eventually led the federal court system to clamp down on all prisoners and impose rules that would prevent abuse of the system by people like Jack.

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman

This month I’m beginning something new.

I’m beginning a series of posts that will focus on my personal recollections of working as a law clerk for a federal judge–a judge who became notorious shortly after I left my clerkship.

Judge Julius J. Hoffman was a U.S. district court judge in Chicago who became notorious when he presided over the “Chicago 7” trial that began in the fall of 1969.

As Hoffman’s law clerk from 1967 to 1969, I observed him closely throughout my two-year tenure with him. This two-year period included, in its final months, the road that led to the “Chicago 7” trial.

This trial is now the subject of a new film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Because the film has inspired new interest in Judge Hoffman, this seemed to be an appropriate time to publish my recollections.

As Judge Hoffman’s law clerk during the two years before the trial began, I could foresee much of what would happen in his courtroom.  I later sat in on the trial, as a spectator, on two very cringe-worthy occasions.

This is the first post in a series that will examine what it was like to clerk for a judge like Hoffman. I’ll begin at the beginning: my first encounter with Judge Hoffman and how I came to work for him.

I’ll go on to describe a wide range of issues that arose during my tenure. These will include my observations during the frenetic time just before and during the “Chicago 7” trial. I’ll conclude with my final communications with the judge, just before I left Chicago in 1970.

Post #1

          In the fall of 1969, Judge Julius J. Hoffman moved from relative obscurity into the spotlight of national attention.  Although he had earned a reputation within the Chicago legal community as an irascible judge with a strong conservative bent, he was otherwise a little-known figure.  The public knew him only as one of Chicago’s U.S. district judges, and as such, he was generally respected.  Even lawyers who had appeared before him were compelled to admit that, despite his personal shortcomings, he could sometimes be an excellent judge.

          All that changed in the fall of 1969.  Assigned to be the presiding judge in what became known as the “Chicago 7” trial, Hoffman was suddenly the focus of journalists and lawyers from every corner of the United States, even the world.  Suddenly his courtroom demeanor was under a microscope, probed for rationality and fairness.  And just as suddenly, he became a national villain, even a national joke.

My first encounter with the judge

          In his custom-made elevator shoes and his black robe (double-stitched for longer wear), Judge Julius J. Hoffman would stride imperiously into his courtroom.  He would seat himself behind his imposing judicial bench, his tiny figure almost lost in the high-ceilinged courtroom he occupied on the 23rd floor of the federal courthouse in Chicago’s Loop.

“The motion will be dee-nied!”

                I can still hear the judge spouting those five words, the five words he must have said a thousand times during the two years I worked for him.  He always seemed to be denying motions rather than granting them.  But that was just one feature of this eccentric and soon-to-be-notorious judge.

          Julius Hoffman was a diminutive, bald-headed man with a prickly ego that was easily punctured.  But when I met with him over the Christmas holidays in 1966, he struck me as a charming and altogether reasonable person to clerk for.  I was in my last year of law school, and Hoffman was one of only three U.S. district judges in Chicago who had agreed, in that benighted era, to interview me, a woman, for the job of law clerk.

          For a number of reasons, Hoffman became my first choice of the three, and when he offered me the job, I decided to take it.  Although I had done almost no research into what kind of judge Hoffman was, I was thrilled with the simple prospect of being any federal judge’s law clerk.

          My failure to research Hoffman’s reputation later came back to haunt me.  I soon discovered that I was working for an irascible, difficult man who had unusual proclivities and a bizarre personality that often played itself out on the bench.  So although I loved my job as a federal judge’s law clerk, and I learned a great deal from my experience working in the federal courts, I was sometimes sorry I had so quickly settled on Hoffman as the federal judge to clerk for.

RBG in ’72

Countless words have been, and will continue to be, written about the incomparable U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served on the high court for 27 years.

I will leave discussions of her tenure on the Court to others.

What I will do here is recount the one and only time I encountered her in person, at a law school conference, at a pivotal point in her career.  If you’re interested in learning about that encounter, please read on.

In September of 1972, I was a full-time faculty member at the University of Michigan (UM) Law School.  Notably, I was the only full-time faculty member who was a woman.

The law school had a desirable setting on the UM campus, whose multitude of elm trees were unfortunately denuded of leaves, thanks to Dutch elm disease. The law school buildings made up the stunning Law Quadrangle, featuring beautiful old buildings constructed in the English Gothic style.

My role on the faculty was to help first-year law students learn the basics of legal education:  how to analyze court rulings (the kind they would read in the books assigned to them in courses like Torts and Contracts); how to do their own research into case law; and how to write a readable legal document, like an appellate brief aimed at persuading an appellate court to decide in their favor.

I was one of four young lawyers hired to fill this role.  The three men and I each taught one-fourth of the first-year class.  As I recall, we got to choose our offices in the law school library, and I immediately chose a plum.  It was an enormous wood-paneled room with charming hand-blown stained glass windows.  One entered it via a stairway leading upstairs from the library’s impressive reading room.  I treasured my office and happily welcomed meeting with students there.  And I wonder, in light of renovations at the law school, whether that glorious office still exists.

At some point early that fall, I learned that a conference on “women and the law” would be held at the New York University School of Law in October.  This was a bold new area of law that most law schools didn’t consider worth their attention.  NYU was clearly an exception. 

The idea of the conference immediately grabbed my attention because I had a longstanding interest in its stated focus.  One reason why I had myself attended law school a few years before was that, beginning very early in my life, I was and remain concerned with achieving equity and justice, including equal rights for women.

This focus had led me to attend law school during the mid-’60s.  My first job was that of law clerk to a U.S. district judge in Chicago.  After finishing my clerkship, I became a practicing lawyer as a Reggie assigned to my first choice, the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau.  [I discussed the Reggie program in a blog post, “The Summer of ’69,” published on August 7, 2015.]

And so, three years earlier, in October of 1969, I had begun working on a lawsuit that had a significant bearing on women’s rights because it would challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’s restrictive abortion law. This law had an enormous impact on the lives of women, especially poor and non-white women.

I worked with Sybille Fritzsche, a lawyer with the ACLU in Chicago, who became my close friend.  Sybille and I spent months preparing our case.  We filed our lawsuit in February 1970, argued it before a three-judge federal court in September, and won a 2-to-1 ruling in our favor in January 1971.  (The ruling in that case, Doe v. Scott, and the events leading up to it, are the focus of a book I’m currently writing.  In the meantime, you can read about our case in historian Leslie Reagan’s prize-winning book, When Abortion Was a Crime.)

Now, in the fall of 1972, I learned about the conference at NYU.  Because I was extremely interested in attending it, I decided to ask the UM law school’s dean, Theodore St. Antoine, whether the school might send me to New York to attend it.  I thought I had a pretty persuasive argument:  I was the only full-time woman on the law school faculty.  Didn’t the dean think it would be a good idea to send me to represent UM at the conference? 

How could he say “no”?  Ted thought about for a moment, then gave his approval.  So off I went, my expenses paid by the kind patrons of UM. 

My hotel, the Fifth Avenue Hotel, located near NYU’s law school, had sounded appealing on paper, but it turned out to be something of a dump.  It suited me just fine, however, because I barely spent any time there.  I was too busy attending the conference sessions and, when I could, taking a short break to reconnect with a couple of law-school classmates and briefly sample life in New York City, a city light-years removed from less-than-exhilarating Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The conference, held on October 20-21, turned out to be a symposium sponsored by AALS (the American Association of Law Schools), “The AALS Symposium on the Law School Curriculum and the Legal Rights of Women.”  It featured a number of prominent speakers, mostly law professors and practicing lawyers who had turned their attention to “the legal rights of women” in areas like tax law, property law, and criminal law.  I attended most of these sessions, and each of them was excellent.

But the only session I was really excited about was a talk by someone named Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I was quite certain that I would relish hearing her talk, “Toward Elimination of Sex-Based Discrimination: Constitutional Aspects,” because the topic was right down my alley.

Looking back, I don’t think I knew anything about RBG at the time.  But when she was introduced (by NYU dean Robert McKay) and began to speak, I was riveted by every word she uttered.  She spelled out everything she had already done and planned to do to achieve gender-equity.

So although I was not already familiar with her, I knew immediately that she clearly was and would continue to be a brilliant leader in the field of women’s rights.  I filed her name away in my memory so I could follow whatever she would do in the coming years.  And I did just that, enthusiastically following the many astounding accomplishments she achieved after 1972.

Your image of RBG may be that of the frail, petite woman who took center stage in our culture in her 80s.  But the RBG I saw in 1972 was very different.  She was an amazingly attractive young woman of 39.  You can see photos of her at that time in The New York Times of September 18 (in Linda Greenhouse’s long review of her life and career) and in a recent issue of TIME magazine (Oct. 5-12, 2020). Although much has been made of her short stature (one I share), she was so very energetic and focused that one quickly forgot how small she was.

It turned out that she had attended Harvard Law School about a decade before I did.  Like her, I’ve been called a “trailblazer” and a “pioneer,” and I also confronted gender-bias at every turn throughout my life.  My path was only a bit less rocky than hers:  My class at HLS included the whopping number of 25 women in a class of 520, while hers had only 9.

I’ve since learned that October 1972 marked a pivotal time in RBG’s career.  She had just switched her teaching position from Rutgers Law School to Columbia Law School (a considerable upgrade).  And she had just assumed another new position:  Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, a project she had helped to found a short time before. 

So I’m left wondering…did she know about the case Sybille (an ACLU attorney in Chicago) and I brought in February 1970, a case that put a woman’s right to reproductive choice front and center?

RBG was an ardent supporter of reproductive rights during her tenure on the Supreme Court.  She discussed her views on abortion and gender equality in a 2009 New York Times interview, where she said “[t]he basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”

But I know that she had also stated that she wasn’t entirely happy with the way in which Roe v. Wade gave every woman in the U.S. that choice by bringing cases like Doe v. Scott in the federal courts.  She stated that she would have preferred that the argument had been made, over time, in each state’s legislature, with the right to choose being gradually adopted in that way rather than in one overriding court ruling that included every state.

Notably, on the 40th anniversary of the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, she criticized the decision because it terminated “a nascent democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws” that might have built “a more durable consensus” in support of abortion rights.

She had a point.  A democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws would have been the ideal route, and might have been a less contentious route, to achieving abortion rights throughout the country. 

But I think her position was influenced by her own life story. 

It stemmed, at least in part, from the fact that in April 1970, she was living and working in New York, where the state legislature had passed a new law allowing abortion, and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller had signed it on April 11, 1970.  New York became only the second state in the U.S. (after Hawaii) to permit abortion, and only a few other states had carved out any sort of exception to what was otherwise a nationwide ban on abortion.

RBG may have optimistically believed that other states would follow New York’s lead.  But history has proved otherwise.

If women had waited for each of the 50 states to accomplish the goal of women’s reproductive choice, I think we’d still have many states refusing to enact laws allowing choice.  In support of my view, I ask readers to consider the situation today, when some states are trying to restrict abortion so frenetically, with or without achieving a complete ban, that they’re now simply waiting for a far-right conservative Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Whether or not RBG was aware of what was happening in the courtrooms of Chicago in 1970, I think I could have persuaded her that Sybille and I were doing the right thing.  

By advocating that the federal district court hold that the restrictive Illinois abortion law was unconstitutional, and persuading the court to decide in our favor, we achieved our goal of saving the lives and health of countless women who would have otherwise suffered from their inability to obtain a legal and medically safe abortion.

What greater achievement on behalf of women’s rights could there have been? 

I like to think that, after hearing my argument, RBG would have approved.